I have spent several nights recently, struggling to determine what's harder to stifle: a cough or a sneeze? Till the jury remains out, I'll muzzle both so my two-month-old catches a few more minutes of that scarcest of commodities—sleep. "Welcome to motherhood, been there, done that," yawns the veteran mother.
The club sign reads, "Members only: Childless couples, single (ladies) and (she) mongrels not allowed."
Having waited a few years to start a family, many had relegated us to the dustbins of "sterility", or earmarked us as "selfish, over-ambitious millennials." The charitable ones sympathized with our misfortune, which disallowed us access to the exclusive parents' club! Initially, I felt apologetic about not being able to contribute with "super moms" about their impeccable children, except vicariously through my niece and nephews. One night, after a girls' tea, I lay awake, thinking how motherhood can make you strangely insular, patronizing and supremely competitive. Everyone wants to be a trophy mother. Amidst this cutthroat combat, empathy for women without children only holds you back. The club sign reads, "Members only: Childless couples, single (ladies) and (she) mongrels not allowed."
Why is it incumbent upon Pakistanis to judge friends, foes, strangers, everyone—in 30 seconds? Why was the incessant probing preceding the final verdict, gender driven? Why was a woman's age a finite asset, the value of which deteriorated with time? And why did women derive such pleasure from destroying other women?
"Biological click-tick, tick! Still single?"
"Any good news?"
"Is the problem with you or your partner?"
And then we found out we were having a baby. As expected, pro bono predictions surfaced in the hope for a boy. When burdened with the news that Team Pink was in the offing, consolations promptly followed. One chap said, "Never mind, but I pray it's a bulky girl who looks like she's just come from the gym." His medieval intellect led him to think that a stout structure could elevate our daughter's skewed gender status. Whether his impenitent misogyny moved me to laughter or tears, I cannot remember!
Nine months later, it became a blur, as little can overshadow this feeling of being in love—a new kind of love that emerges when you bring another life into the world. Love that makes you smile even through the incomparable pain of an all-natural, no-epidural birth. Love that makes you fight tears even as you smile, because you've never seen something look so vulnerable before. Love that introduces you to a whole new way for the heart to melt as you battle sleep at 3am, because she stares in your direction (although she's unable to decipher your face)! Love that shows you how much courage, selflessness and sacrifice you're capable of, despite motherhood promising no career ladder. Love that enables you to press repeat, although there's no calling in sick or waving goodbye, even after opening that much-awaited can of Diet Coke at midnight. Love that made it to this world so that your soul walks outside your body—eternally, unconditionally. Love that makes you scared to shut your eyes, because it's nothing short of a disorienting, sacred miracle.
When burdened with the news that Team Pink was in the offing, consolations promptly followed. One chap said, "Never mind, but I pray it's a bulky girl...."
And then there's watching a husband metamorphosing into a father, the two of us circling in an unfamiliar orbit of compassion, frustration, unison. After bringing our daughter home from the hospital, my husband would stare at her endlessly, his eyes brimming with tears. Nothing made him happier than to hear people say, "She's a Xerox of you!" Pakistani brainwashing led me into thinking that he wouldn't co-sleep with us, but he did, despite the 8am starts to the day. One night, as he leant over the Moses basket, assessing if the swaddle was covering the baby's mouth, it reminded me of the time my father sat on a backbreaking chair all night, intermittently touching my forehead to check if the fever had subsided. Why girls want to marry men who mirror their fathers finally made sense. To be fair, maybe my husband hadn't changed but the way I looked at him had.
In late pregnancy, I penned a letter to our daughter, for her to read later if the ink remained legible. Some days ago, I stumbled upon my husband's unmistakable cacographic scribble in the diary next to mine:
"...It was love at first sight, because even in that 3D scan, it was indisputable that you had my nose. Your mother went in circles about how sacrosanct even the most imperfect father-daughter relationship is, (which I attributed to her pregnancy hormones), but nothing could have prepared me for what ensued. No one warned me of the sublimely ecstatic feeling of holding your mother's hand, as we heard the sound of your heart beating for the first time in that icy ultrasound room. No one warned me of the uncontrollable adrenalin rush when you clasped my finger, alarmed by the blender whirring. No one warned me that on the other side of all the tenderness of daddy's girl is a kinetic force, which can move me to give up my life and take that of another's, propelled by the same catalyst. No one warned me that unconditional love exists beyond 'The Lord of the Rings'. No one ever warned me. Though many said, 'Words feel enormously inadequate'..."
Despite the euphoria, the compelling realization punching my soul is that motherhood is no Sindh Club membership or Ivy League admission.
The birth of our daughter has introduced numerous, rapturous "firsts"; however, despite the euphoria, the compelling realization punching my soul is that motherhood is no Sindh Club membership or Ivy League admission. Your contribution is limited to making the choice to try and create another life. The rest can be attributed to divine intervention (Mother Nature?). Hence judging those who choose differently or worse still, whose choice meets with resistance from the cosmos for no fault of their own is nothing short of ignorant. Unpardonable. And having played for the opposite squad, I am not describing second-hand, intangible suffering. Neither am I offering lip-service empathy.
My ramblings are those of a first-time mother: part martyr, part pioneer and all I have learnt so far is that there is no playbook which hammers the rules and fixes the goal post: meet intuition, my new best friend.
I will be back but for now I must beg leave because typing with one hand whilst our daughter sleeps on my lap is challenging (though not the chief dissuader); the clicking of the keyboard, constantly threatening to wake her, wins hands down!
PS: Did I see you quietly judge me for rocking her to sleep? I'm the minority that would rather be a struggling mother than an infallible, foolproof one—at least that way I exist beyond a figment of my imagination!